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February 26th, 2008
An unprecedented ability to harm
What problems are arising or could arise as a result of nanotechnology? What are the environmental concerns? George A. Kimbrell and Aatish Salvi continue their debate.
This is a very broad question. I'll touch on three important areas of risk: the public, workers and the environment.
First, there is much more that we do not know about nanomaterials and their risks than what we do know. Despite rapid nanomaterial commercialization, many potential risks remain dangerously untested due to the failure to prioritize and fund risk research.
That said, there are also numerous foreseeable risks that arise from the fundamentally different nature and properties of nanomaterials. While not all nanomaterials will be found to be toxic or dangerous, they are also not uniformly safe, and crucially, their safety cannot be assumed from the testing of their bulk material counterparts. Just as the size and physics of nanomaterials give them unusual strength and reactivity properties, those properties also give them unpredicted risks such as increased toxicity and extreme mobility. And the limited existing risk studies continue to raise red flags, a few of which I will mention below.
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